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5 Easy Ways To Make Shots More Interesting

5 Easy Ways To Make Shots More Interesting

It’s very easy to slip into a shooting pattern where not much thought is given to framing and composition so you end up with shots which are OK but are rather mundane and ordinary. However, with a few little, simple changes, shots can be turned into something much more interesting.

Summer

Summer by Peter Bargh.

 

Evaluate

If you’re shooting a scene, particularly if you’re not familiar with your shooting location, it’s easy to become flustered so you just shoot anything and everything you see. However, if you take the time to study the scene so you can find out what / who should be your main focus point you’ll be able to frame your shot(s) around them, giving your work focus rather than shooting anything and everything.

 

Angle

Digital photography really opens the doors on experimentation as there’s almost no limit on the number of shots you can take. As a result, don’t be afraid to shoot the same subject/scene from a variety of angles. Get down low, climb up high, go wider, get closer…there are plenty of options to have a go at, you just have to find what works for you.

 

Portraits

Those who are new to photography tend to put people in the centre of the frame when photographing them, however applying ‘the rule of thirds’ can give you a shot that’s much more creative and appealing to the eye. For those who don’t know what ‘the rule of thirds’ is, imagine a grid that divides your shot into nine equal sections by a set of vertical and horizontal lines. With the imaginary frame in place, you should place the most important element(s) in your shot on one of the lines or where the lines meet. So with a person, instead of putting them in the centre, simply move them more to the left or right thirds of the frame.

One problem with following this rule is that it can leave you with a strong focus point on one side of your shot and a big empty space on the other so, to improve this, see how you can add a secondary point of interest that’s less important to balance your shot.

Whitby Goth

Whitby Goth by Peter Bargh.

 

Backgrounds

For portraits, you can use backgrounds to add an extra level of interest to your shot, however don’t let it become the star of the show. Don’t pick a scene with colours or light that’ll outshine your subject(s) and make sure you balance the shot so background interest doesn’t turn into a cluttered mess that just spoils the photo.

Lighting

What time of day you shoot, the weather and if you’re working indoors or out can make a big difference to how your final image will look. For example, early morning or later afternoon/evening light isn’t as harsh as mid-day and evening low, light shots in cities tend to look better when there’s still a little light in the sky as this adds more interest to the shot. The light at sunset/sunrise changes rapidly and you may even find the best colours/light appear just as the sun dips behind the horizon.

For outdoor portraits, you may need to find some shade so the light on your subject’s face is more balanced. It’ll also make them ‘pop’ from the scene as the background tends to be a little brighter than where they are stood. Can’t find shade? Use a reflector to bounce light up onto their face to fill in shadows under their nose and eyes.

If you’re working with a scene where there’s a big difference in the dynamic range (the shadows and highlights) you may want to consider shooting some HDR. In a nutshell, this is where you layer several shots together that have been taken at different exposures (you’ll need a tripod as every shot has to line up exactly). For more information on HDR, take a look at this article: HDR Landscapes

These are just a few of the many examples out there on how light and other aspects can change the appearance/feel of a photograph. For more tips, check out our technique section.

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How To Shoot Wide Angle Shots In Cities And Towns

How To Shoot Wide Angle Shots In Cities And Towns

Take your wide angle lens out with you and exaggerate the angles of your town.

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Architecture

Building

Photo by Joshua Waller 

 

Take a short walk through your town and you’ll find a thousand and one things to photograph but instead of walking around for hours photographing trees, postboxes and buildings one at a time try getting your wide-angle lens out to capture and emphasise a wider area of the town.
 

A lens which is 18mm or wider is a good choice if you’re working with a camera that isn’t full-frame. If you want to have the option of changing your focal length take along a zoom lens which will give you the option of shooting a variety of perspectives.

As your foreground objects will be quite close to your lens the smallest movement from your camera can make a huge difference to your photo so take a tripod out with you. You may also have trouble with lens flare so pack a lens hood and take a lint-free cloth to wipe away any spots on your lens.

The problem with wide-angle lenses is that objects can appear small so it’s easy for your shots to look empty. Or, if there are lots of objects filling the scene your photo will look overly busy and the viewer won’t have anything to focus on. The best way to deal with this is to have foreground interest that will give your image scale and also give you a focus point.

If you want to use this technique to its full potential, to give your image as much impact as possible, you need to get as close as you can to your foreground object.

 

Building

Photo by Joshua Waller 

Look out for objects you can use to lead the eye through the image as long paths and roads give the impression they stretch on for miles when shot with a wide angle lens which pulls the viewer right through the photo. Just watch out for unwanted items such as your own shadow creeping into the shot.

You need to have the eye-catching foreground interest filling enough of the frame while still retaining enough background detail to make the photograph interesting. To do this, you’ll need to make sure everything from front to back is sharp. A small aperture is a good place to start. Don’t be tempted to focus on your foreground interest as this will leave too much of your foreground in focus and not enough background detail will be sharp. Instead, focus just beyond what’s in your foreground, around a third in, or if you can, use the hyperfocal focus point.

If there’s nothing of real interest in your foreground get down low to the ground and just emphasise the scale of the entire scene. If you have a few clouds in the sky they will streak out around your scene and as they curve towards the edge of the frame, it gives them a sense of motion which can add interest to your shot.

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5 Ways To Be More Creative With Transport Shots

5 Ways To Be More Creative With Transport Shots

We have a few more transport photography tips to help you take shots that stand out from the crowd.

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Transport

BMW

Photo by David Burleson

Add A Vignette

To create mood and to add emphasis apply a vignette to your transport shots. For more information on how to do this, take a look at our tutorial: Creating Vignettes.

Shoot Inside

As well as shooting the outside, if you can, open the doors of the car, truck or of whatever transport you’re photographing and capture some interior shots. You can go wide, capturing the whole of the interior or use a close-up lens to focus on detail such as dials, buttons and badges.
 

Fill The Frame

To really add emphasis so the car is the only focal point of the shot, fill the frame with it. This, however, doesn’t mean it has to be positioned in the centre of the shot. Move your position slightly to the left or right and you’ll see how it can make a really big difference to the overall image. Just make sure you don’t clip off a wing mirror or a wheel in the process.

Car badge

Photo by David Burleson

Use Reflections

Try using the car’s mirrors or some part of its bodywork to capture a reflection of another part of the car in. Just have a good look at the reflection to make sure you or any passers-by aren’t captured in the shot as you’ll have to spend time cloning them out later if you do.

Away from the car look for puddles and other reflective surfaces you can photograph. New buildings, which are full of glass and steel, are great backdrops to position new cars against.

Stepping further back so you can see the reflection of the horizon down the side of the car can also work brilliantly, particularly at sunset or if you’re in a picturesque location.

Car

Photo by David Burleson

Change Angles

Take a walk around the mode of transport you’re photographing and look for the angles, shapes and little details that make it unique. 

Get low to headlight level to make it look intimidating while shooting from the side will give you the chance to follow the lines of the car’s bodywork which will help guide the eye through the shot.

Shoot up high so you can show the car’s overall shape, just make sure the sky’s not overexposed. You can always fit an ND grad to darken the sky, creating more mood. For wider shots, make sure you can’t see what’s behind the car from underneath it as this will be distracting.
 

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NASA’s new Landsat 9 satellite snaps its first shots

Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair photographed via satellite.

This story originally appeared on Popular Science.

In September 2021, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) jointly launched Landsat 9, a cutting-edge Earth observation satellite, for a five-year mission. On Friday the agencies released its very first photos of our planet, which it collected while traveling around 16,760 miles per hour some 438 miles above Earth.

The orbiter’s first images show a smattering of Earth’s changing landscapes: the sediment-swirled Great Lakes near Detroit, Michigan; the mangrove-dotted inlets and bays of the northwest coast of Australia; the shifting beaches and cities of the Florida Panhandle; drought-prone swaths of the Navajo Nation in the Western US; and the melting glaciers of the Asian Himalayas.

With nearly half a century of data collection behind it, the Landsat program—which actually includes the work of just eight orbiters, as Landsat 6 failed to launch in 1993—aims to aid in the management of natural resources and help understand and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The city of Kathmandu, Nepal seen at the bottom left of this satellite photo.
The city of Kathmandu, Nepal, seen at the bottom left of this Landsat 9 image, lies in a valley south of the Himalayan Mountains between Nepal and China. Glaciers, and the lakes formed by glacial meltwater, are visible in the top middle of this image. Previous studies with Landsat have documented shrinkage of Himalayan glaciers, as well as changing lake levels the adjacent Tibetan plateau. NASA

“Landsat 9’s first images capture critical observations about our changing planet and will advance this joint mission of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey that provides critical data about Earth’s landscapes and coastlines seen from space,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “NASA will continue to work with USGS to strengthen and improve accessibility to Landsat data so decision makers in America—and around the world—better understand the devastation of the climate crisis, manage agricultural practices, preserve precious resources, and respond more effectively to natural disasters.”

The new orbiter is currently in the midst of a 100-day trial period so NASA can test its systems and calibrate its instruments. Once those quality controls are complete, NASA will hand control of the satellite over to USGS. Landsat’s planned mission has a duration of just five years, but it has the fuel to continue for an additional decade beyond that if it continues to function. Indeed, Landsat 7, which launched in 1999 with a planned mission of five years, is still operating today. Once Landsat 9 passes all of its checks, it will take over Landsat 7’s orbit, and the older spacecraft will officially be decommissioned. NASA hopes to refuel Landsat 7 once it lowers its orbit—not to keep the satellite going, but to ensure it has enough gas to be safely eased out of space for good.

The Kimberly region of Western Australia.
The first image collected by Landsat 9 shows remote coastal islands and inlets of the Kimberly region of Western Australia. In the top middle section of the image, the Mitchell River carves through sandstone, while to the left Bigge Island and the Coronation Islands stand out in the Indian Ocean. NASA

Landsat 9 will work in tandem with Landsat 8, which has enough gas to last for another couple of years. Each satellite will collect some 750 distinct images of Earth daily, imaging the entire planet every eight days.

Landsat 9’s Operational Land Imager can capture visible, near-infrared and shortwave-infrared light in nine wavelengths. Meanwhile, its Thermal Infrared Sensor will measure Earth’s surface temperature fluctuations by detecting two wavelengths of thermal radiation. In addition to transmitting images with higher resolution than its predecessors, Landsat 9 can see a greater number of colors to help showcase subtle changes in terrain: more than 16,000 shades of a given wavelength color compared to Landsat 7’s 256.“

The incredible first pictures from the Landsat 9 satellite are a glimpse into the data that will help us make science-based decisions on key issues including water use, wildfire impacts, coral reef degradation, glacier and ice-shelf retreat, and tropical deforestation,” USGS Acting Director David Applegate said in a statement. “This historic moment is the culmination of our long partnership with NASA on Landsat 9’s development, launch and initial operations, which will better support environmental sustainability, climate change resiliency, and economic growth—all while expanding an unparalleled record of Earth’s changing landscapes.” 

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Mastering Focus Stacking for Stunning Macro Shots

Macro photography is about capturing the smaller world around you. A little adjustment to the aperture and there you are, zooming into the subject to reveal its inherent brilliance. The popularity of macro photography is growing exponentially, thanks to the popular concept of Focus Stacking. Beginners reading this must be wondering what this is all about – and in this article, we will guide you through the ins and outs of what’s involved!

Focus Stacking #5

Read, learn, and we’re sure you will be all excited to implement this beautiful concept in your photography!

What is Focus Stacking?

Focus Stacking is a vital tool in photography that helps you maintain a sharp focus across the entire image, making everything in focus. It is combining or ‘stacking’ a group of similar photos. While focus stacking is a common photography technique, learning the tricks of the trade will help you take your macro photography skills to the next level.

This concept of focus stacking helps you deal with all the challenges that come with macro photography. Problems like lack of depth of field, a drastic reduction in sharpness, lack of light, and softened diffraction make it nearly impossible to use narrow apertures upon it.

Focus Stacking #4

Professional photographers use this technique to portray multiple objects in focus on various focal planes. This combination results in one strikingly sharp image and renders to the photograph a greater depth without any loss of definition. The result is a highly polished yet very real-looking image.

The Two-Part Focus Stacking Process

In brief, there are two main parts to focus stacking:

Image Capture

You need to capture a series of images at different focal points. You need to maintain a consistent focus adjustment with every consecutive shot. In this entire image capturing process, you have to ensure that both – camera and the subject remain in the same position. Only then can you successfully stack up these images in the post-production stage.

Image Rendering

In this stage, you have to compose all the images captured in the previous step into one image. Basically, in this stage, a portion of every picture is cut out and then pieced together to create the final, fully in-focus image. You have the flexibility to decide how many frames you would take to create that one impressive outcome and shoot accordingly in the image capturing stage itself. 

Focus Stacking #3

Where is Focus Stacking Used?

The best part about focus stacking is that one can implement it in any type of photography. However, to put it into practice you need to understand the applications of focus stacking. In the world of photography, people prefer to focus stacking in situations where individual images have a shallow depth of field. Focus stacking helps you bypass limitations brought about by a lower depth of field.

But focus stacking can be easily used in other varied types too – product photography and landscape photography to be specific. The scope of utilizing focus stacking in these types is excellent; the results are mesmerizing!

What Equipment Do You Require for the Focus Stacking Process?

As complex as it looks, you can start with the process of focus stacking with this essential equipment – a mirrorless or DSLR camera, a flash, a tripod, and a bang on editing software bundled with a whole lot of patience and skill!

What Should you Keep in Mind Before you Start Stacking?

  • As you will be clicking a whole lot of multiple images, make sure to charge the camera’s battery. The photos would also require ample space on your memory card.
  • Using a self-timer is better, as it would ensure that every photo which will be stacked later is crystal clear, without any impact of camera shake. 
  • To avoid visible dust specs on your photographs, you should use the sensor-cleaning function. 
  • Have a clear picture in mind; this would help you fix the number of shots you would need to capture to have a successful focus stacking later.

What are the Different Options Available to Stack Photos?

Manually Shifting Focus

Shifting focus manually works amazingly in full-zoom mode. The best part of using this option is that you wouldn’t require any additional equipment except your camera and tripod. A little disadvantage here is that you may have to spend some time cropping images, as lenses change their focal length as you shift focus. However, this all depends on the type of lens you have.

Helicon Tube

This option is suited only for electronically controlled lenses. The Helicon Tube is an extension tube that enables your camera to perform automated and software-controlled stacks. And without any doubt, Helicon is one of the best focus-stacking software producers in the world!

Automated Focusing Railing

One of the best options out there, you can get a perfect stack of images. Every step size is electronically controlled, and there’s minimal manual intervention in this process. All you need is a good macro slider.

Automated Stacking Camera

Isn’t it blissful to have a camera that already has all the features you need right in it! Olympus cameras have a stacking feature, whereas it can be installed in select Canon DSLRs using the Magic Lantern firmware. Automated stacking gives you all the precision you require to pile up those images into one, mesmerizing shot!

Handheld Stacking

This one is the most time and effort consuming process. The advantage of handheld stacking is that you wouldn’t require any additional equipment – you wouldn’t need a tripod either. It makes handheld stacking a preferable option when it comes to shooting subjects that wouldn’t stay still for a long time, for example, insects.

Focus Stacking #2

How to Perform Focus Stacking for Macro Photography

Before we begin, let’s get this clear – focus stacking is a part of post-processing. But the whole process starts with capturing photos which you can stack later using editing software. So the important point to remember here is this: if you mess up the shooting, focus stacking can be a pain-staking and impossible task later.

Step 1: Adjust Your Camera and Equipment

With your equipment and all the patience, you can start capturing the images. Frame by frame, you have to shoot consecutive shots. For added stability, use a sturdy tripod and turn the self-timer on. Set your shot as ‘normal’ and shoot in manual mode, as this will help you to effortlessly snap the series of images you will require to compile later. It is in your best interest to ensure the images are close to each other, as editing will be a child’s play later.

Unless you have a camera that is in-built with a focus-stacking function, manual focus is essential. A camera with the inbuilt feature will automatically shift the focus, which is a tedious task. Otherwise, you will have to manually shift the focus, trying to keep it as close as possible, with one eye on the position of the subject.

Step 2: Start Shooting

Once you have all the critical parameters in place, you can start shooting your consecutive shots. You can either work your way front to back or vice versa. You should ideally begin capturing images where you want the focus plane to start, further adjusting the focus for every shot in the series. Now the choice is yours here – whether you can wind up the shooting process in three shots or fifty shots. The number of images depends on two factors:

  • The shallowness of the depth of field
  • Expected precision of the outcome

Step 3: Choose the Editing Software

There are many different styles of editing software out there – PICOLAY, CombineZP, Zerene Stacker, Affinity Photos – but the best and most trusted one is Adobe Photoshop CC. Its ready availability and the easy user interface are why most photographers (beginners and pros) prefer using this software.

Step 4: Begin Editing

Sort out all the images you would be using for the process of focus stacking. Using Lightroom, you can select all these raw images which would be a part of the final photograph. After choosing these images, you have to ensure that the key parameters, such as exposure, highlights, and shadows, are uniform across all the raw images. If not, edit them right away so that all the images are consistent in appearance. It makes the process of blending easier.

Step 5: Layer the Raw Images

This step is super easy and fun at the same time. Using the ‘Open in Layers’ option, you have to drag in all the images as layers in a single document. This document is crucial to the next stage.

Step 6: Align and Blend the Images

Now that the challenging part is over, you have to move ahead to alignment. In this stage, you have to ensure that all the images are lined up. Here, you can use Photoshop’s ‘Auto-Align Layers’ tool, as it’s a lot quicker than manual alignment. Using this option, you can work your way through accurate alignment of images, in a proper, perfectly matched sequence.

Next in line is blending these images. You can seamlessly blend in all the pictures with the ‘Auto-Blend Layers’ tool. This option allows you to select the tones, color, and other features which would form a predominant part of the final image.

Step 7: Edit the Image

After a short processing time, you are now one step closer to the final image. In this stage, you may come across some inconsistencies in the layering, blending, and overall editing. But all’s not lost! You still have a chance to rectify all the tiny faults by manually editing. You may have to adjust the color or even crop out the edges of the images. You wouldn’t have to waste much of your time in this step if you followed the earlier mentioned steps to the T!

Step 8: Final Touches to the Final Image

There you go – you can now see your final image on your screen! At this stage, you can crop the image, adjust standard parameters, and give your image a final touch-up. Further, you can export the image to whichever format you want to and save a copy! And we’re done!

Can You Try Focus Stacking With Your Smartphone?

You sure can! All you need is a macro lens attachment to your phone, and you are good to go. Not everyone has a camera, and that shouldn’t stand in the way of you experimenting with focus stacking at all! 

The process stays almost the same, except for the step where you capture images. In the camera, you have to adjust the focus to capture images at different focus planes. However, with a smartphone, you have to merely touch different areas of the screen to capture different images at various focus points. You can stack all these later in less than a minute using Photoshop!

Focus Stacking #1

Final Thoughts on Mastering Focus Stacking

Considering the time and effort, it takes to stack images, quite a lot of people out there prefer not using the focus stacking. But once you’ve tried this fantastic concept, there’s no turning back! Because there is a notable and obvious difference in the quality images of a standard macro shot and a focus-stacked macro shot. Your images will have an extra polished, shiny look.

Focus stacking is a simple trick that can level up your photography and help you stand out from the rest. You can turn a set of images into a stunning shot by investing just a little more time and effort. And let us tell you this, the result is worth all your time and effort!


This guest post was written by Adam Georges, an active member of the imaging community. Since 1981, the Georges Family continues to provide advice on all the major brands and products. To learn more, visit Georges Cameras TV YouTube channel or active blog for more educational content about photography.

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6 Essential Groom Preparation Shots for Wedding Photographers

6 Essential Groom Preparation Shots for Wedding Photographers

A lot of wedding photography education focuses on the images of the ceremony and reception, and while those are, of course, quite important, the preparation photos can provide treasured memories of the big day. Part of those are the groom preparation shots, and this helpful video tutorial will show you six essential looks that you will want to remember for your next wedding. 

Coming to you from John Branch IV Photography, this great video tutorial will show you six essential groom preparation shots and how to get them. The actual ceremony and reception are often a blur for the couple, and good prep shots can help contextualize a lot of the day for them and provide some hidden treasures of joy, excitement, nervousness, interactions with family and friends, and more, plus they are often a bit more intimate than the rest of the day, thus providing a very different and welcome look at the day for the happy couple. It’s well worth having a good plan for the prep shots, just as you would the ceremony and reception. Check out the video above for the full rundown. 

If you would like to continue to learn about wedding photography, be sure to check out “How To Become A Professional Commercial Wedding Photographer With Lee Morris and Patrick Hall!”

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Top 10 Tips for taking great product shots for eBay

Top 10 Tips for taking great product shots for eBay

October 14, 2021

How to take great product photographs to sell on ebay and other sites, so you can maximise how much you make, and sell more quickly! We’ve written this guide on taking great product shots for eBay to help you take the best photos possible for selling your kit on ebay, but they are equally applicable for selling on other sites, such as Facebook, Gumtree, Etsy, Bepop, and others.

Used Canon EOS 300D (Silver)

Used Canon EOS 300D (Silver)

1. Check your item

Check your item for dust, or any dirt, and clean where possible. Giving your item a quick clean shows that you take care of your things and will give the buyer a better view of the items condition. Make sure you find all the accessories, as any missing items will reduce the value.

2. Prepare your area

Set-up an area where you will be taking photos, this could be a white shelf, window ledge, or table. If you don’t have anything suitable, then you can use an A3 or A4 piece of paper to create a white background

Lighting is key for taking great product shots for eBay

Ring light used for lighting

3. Think about lighting

Think about lighting, where is your light coming from? If you don’t have enough light, then you may need to consider purchasing some lights, or setup some additional lighting from what you have around the house. A simple LED panel can be used, but for better lighting you ideally want 2 light sources. Another option is a ring light, or even a DIY lighting solution. Good lighting will make your product stand out from other people, and will show the buyer the condition of your item.

4. Set your aperture for greater depth

Setup your camera on a tripod if possible, as this will allow you to use a smaller aperture, set you camera to A for aperture control. As a rough guide, here are some recommended apertures for better detail f/8-9 (M43), f/10-12 (APS-C), f/13+ (FF). For smaller items you may want to increase this further, so instead of f/8, you may want to use f/16, although be aware of diffraction.

Set your camera to Aperture priority

Set your camera to Aperture priority

5. Check your white balance

Check that your white balance settings match your lighting, as this will improve your photos as well as more accurately represent the colour of your items. If you’re shooting using tungsten/incandescent lighting, then using this setting on your camera will give you great looking colours, and your background should be nice and white, depending on your camera. If needed, then manual white balance should give the best results.

6. Use a macro lens for smaller objects

For smaller objects, you’re most likely going to need a macro lens, as this will save you a lot of time, as you will not need to crop your images. A macro lens doesn’t need to break the bank, but will be really useful, particularly for smaller items, like jewellery and other small parts. Our guide to budget macro lenses is a great place to start, if you’re thinking about getting one.

A macro lens helps you get closer to small objects

A macro lens helps you get closer to small objects

7. Smartphone tips

You will get better results from using a camera, be it a compact, a DSLR, or a mirrorless camera, however, if you do use a smartphone to speed up the process of getting your images onto the site you’re selling on, such as ebay, then be aware that almost all of the same principles apply, and lighting is key, especially as the smartphone has a smaller sensor.

8. How many photos do I need?

Take the right amount of photos – if you’re using ebay, then you can upload a maximum of 12 photos. If your product warrants it then use all 12 photos. Make sure you show everything that is included in the sale, if there’s a box, manuals, accessories, battery and charger, show this, as it will minimise the questions you get asked about the listing.

Detail showing corrosion on the hot-shoe

Detail showing corrosion on the hot-shoe

9. Include the details

If there is any damage or wear to the item, then make sure to show clear photos detailing this, as this will avoid disappointment, and also avoid people returning the item. If there are any issues or problems with the item you’re selling, make sure you include this clearly in the listing, detailing any issues.

10. Edit your photos

If you have time, then adjusting the brightness levels in photo editing software, like Photoshop can help, as well as cropping your photos, and will also give you a better result than using ebay’s own editing tools. A white background will give your images a professional look.

More reading

If you’ve got a lot to sell, and plan on doing more selling, then lighting really is key for taking great product shots – you’ll find some great lighting options here.

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How to get great shots on a cheap Holga film camera

How to get great shots on a cheap Holga film camera

October 6, 2021

Michael Kenna is lauded internationally for his serene square images taken on Hasselblads, but did you also know he’s a Holga fan? Michael discusses how to get great results from these lo-fi cameras


How to get great shots on a cheap Holga film camera 1

White Bird Flying, Paris 2007. Perfectly timed, considering the Holga’s limitations, and great framing

Not everyone will know Michael Kenna’s name, but they’ll probably know his style, which, in recent years, has been massively influential, and massively copied. While he never claimed to have invented this look, Kenna’s preference for beautifully toned, square-format prints; peaceful, Zen-flavoured scenes; and long-exposure water has made him one of the world’s most recognisable photographers.

He’s also well known for shooting on cheap Holga film cameras, and has brought about an eponymous book, so AP found out the whys and wherefores. ‘I began to photograph with Holga cameras because they were light, playful and unpredictable,’ explains this Lancashire native who has long been residing in the USA.

‘I’ve used Hasselblad cameras for 30 years, and Holga cameras haven’t replaced them – they’ve just given my work a little extra twist. Photographs made with a Holga camera are far more unpredictable, which I rather like. They have taken me out of my comfort zone, and the overall experience has been one of surprise and discovery.’

This said, Michael appreciates that in our digital age, where high-quality images captured on powerful but reasonably priced gear can be instantly shared, some people might struggle to understand the appeal of low-tech plastic cameras.

How to get great shots on a cheap Holga film camera 2

Umbrella, Shexian, Anhui, China, 2007. Kenna is widely travelled but is able to find inspiration in everyday objects

Far from instant gratification
As he explains, shooting on old Holgas is not for the faint-hearted. ‘There is no instant gratification, and it is impossible to foresee results with any great accuracy. The very act of developing an exposed film in a darkroom is fraught with anticipation and anxiety.

The images may be out of focus, under or overexposed, scratched and/or vignetted. Or, they may be magical in a way that could never be previsualised.’ Fortunately, Michael stuck with it, and the quality and atmosphere of his Holga images, printed in his trademark square format, blow a lot of images taken on cutting-edge digital gear out of the water. So what were the biggest technical limitations he faced and how did he get around them?

How to get great shots on a cheap Holga film camera 3

Simtai Great Wall, Study 2, Beijing, China 2007. A unique Kenna twist on one of the world’s most photographed edifices

‘To be honest, I just picked them up and snapped away without great regard to any possible technical limitations. Many of my pictures did not come out very well… some were underexposed, some over. It didn’t make long exposures, and I never used them on a tripod, although I know it is possible with some models. So all my images were taken handheld.

If I had been a more serious practitioner, I am sure that I could have made the cameras more practicable and controllable, but this was never my goal.’

New adventures in lo-fi
Rather than the lo-fi technology in the Holga influencing Michael’s choice of composition and subject matter, he reckons it was more about getting him to experiment. ‘Most Holga cameras have plastic lenses, so one cannot expect extremely fine resolution and crisp details.

Perhaps this unconsciously influenced the choice of subject matter. For me, it was constant experimentation. I used the Holga cameras whenever I didn’t have the Hasselblads, and sometimes when I did. As mentioned, many of the resulting negatives were flawed – out of focus and incorrectly exposed – but I expected that ahead of time so it didn’t bother me.’

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Pavilion Building, Summer Palace, Beijing, China, 2007. The tree ‘fringing’ makes the image, along with the lovely vignette

He also turned some of the ‘flaws’ of the Holga, such as light leakage, to his advantage. ‘Sometimes the “defects” of the negative made the image far more interesting than if it had been made with another, more predictable camera. Printing negatives made from Holga cameras was particularly fun, challenging, and at times exasperating.

It is not possible to predict with any accuracy how the negative will be. Many times, I had to give up the printing, because the subject was not in focus. Sometimes there were scratches which made the negative irredeemable. But, this is all part of the Holga experience. One must keep an open mind and go with the flow.’

Can it be done digitally?
Not everyone will have access to old film Holgas, or want to bother with their faff and unpredictability. We wondered if the same kind of approach used here could also be applied with a smartphone – and does Michael think this kind of look can ever be successfully replicated digitally?

‘Smartphones are great for recording day-to-day experiences and events,’ he muses. ‘The Holga “vignette-look” can certainly be replicated quite easily and instantly with the billion and one apps available to all. However, I don’t think the experience will be the same.

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Deva Offering, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, 2011. Kenna is influenced by Eastern philosophy and the minimalism of a lot of East Asian Buddhist art

Part of the Holga charm is in its unpredictable nature. Smartphones are more and more predictable and instant. You know what you have when you make the exposure. This is not the Holga experience. I compare Holga images to opening Christmas presents. The waiting is a great part of the process.

What you get is not always what you want – but sometimes it is much better!’

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Snow-covered Fields, Hokkaido, 2004. Japan is an ongoing source of inspiration to Kenna

Any student of Kenna’s work will know that he tries to avoid over-complication in anything he does, and this stretches to his choice of gear – so in this sense, his yen for Holgas is entirely understandable. ‘The gear that I use now is quite simple. I don’t like complicated cameras with bells and whistles.

I essentially use the same equipment I’ve had for the past 30 years. As you know, it is non-digital. I could perhaps see using lighter equipment in the future. My Hasselblad cameras seem to be getting heavier and heavier! I need to go to the gym more frequently to carry all this stuff.’

On the shoulders of giants
Michael must be one of the most widely emulated photographers in the world, be it by other pros or amateurs entering competitions. Does he find this annoying? ‘I get asked this question a lot, so bear with me if I give you a longer answer. Frankly, at my age, very little annoys me any more.

I sincerely believe it is normal and healthy to study the work of other artists, and even imitate others’ efforts, as a means to explore one’s personal vision. It has been this way throughout history in all mediums of creative expression. One advances by standing on the shoulders of giants.

The perspective becomes a lot clearer from such high ground. If I can help other photographers in any way, I am very happy to do so, and of course, imitation is considered the best form of flattery (although it’s a bit overestimated in my humble opinion. ‘Fundamentally, I believe that photographers worth their salt should and will work with passionate intensity to find their own voice.

It has always been difficult to come up with something original, and it doesn’t get any easier with smartphones. True creativity does not come quickly, or at all. We are all individuals, and it is the search to discover ourselves, in our own personal vision and journey, that we find satisfaction.’

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Michael’s choice of Holga
Even when he’s on his downtime Michael continues to take pictures and keeps a range of Holga cameras close to hand. ‘To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to which particular Holga cameras I’ve used. Looking around the darkroom, here are some that are currently being used.

One is a Holga 120 GN, another a Holga 120 GFN. For me, part of the Holga charm is that they are quite disposable and replaceable. I have personally never spent the time working out which camera did what. They are all a bit unique!


Further reading
Michael Kenna’s guide to minimalist photography

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AER TYP Lets You Throw Your Phone Like a Football to Get Aerial Shots

AER TYP Lets You Throw Your Phone Like a Football to Get Aerial Shots

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The company that created a way to literally throw a GoPro to get aerial footage has just announced a similar product that promises the same experience, but with a smartphone.

Five years after the success of the first throwable camera device, the team is back with a new take on the original design that works specifically with smartphones. Called the AER TYP — which stands for “throw your phone” — the team says it knows the idea sounds crazy, but promises that it “actually makes a lot of sense.”

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“We all have capable cameras in our pockets – So we can simply throw them to get unforeseen, engaging, and immersive perspectives,” the company says.

If the idea of throwing your camera sounds like a quick way to destroy it, the team assures that it built the AER TYP to protect the device first and foremost. AER touts its years of experience building devices that make it safe to throw cameras and has thoroughly tested the AER TYP through what it calls the harshest conditions.

“We tested the farthest throws, the highest drops, and the roughest surfaces countless times — the AER TYP can take it all!” the company claims. “We’ve even thrown our own phones off buildings several stories high, right onto concrete. Not once, but countless times. You can trust that your phone and the AER TYP are safe under absolutely any circumstance.”

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The design of the TYP is extremely straightforward. The device is formed out of mostly foam, and the smartphone is held ensconced in the protective enclosure by a Velcro strap. That enclosure is then attached to a pair of stabilization fins and the whole thing can be thrown to capture aerial footage with a smartphone on the cheap.

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In addition to the new TYP, AER is also releasing an updated version of the original AER for GoPros. Called the AER 2.0, the team chose to use a new material that it says is even more suitable for the wings that it deems “unbreakable.” Existing AER heads can be attached to the new wings via the AER 2.0 wing adapter. The AER 2.0 is compatible with the Hero 4 through Hero 10 cameras.

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The AER TYP is available for as low as $68 and the AER 2.0 for as low as $34 depending on which backing option is chosen on the company’s Kickstarter. AER expects to deliver the AER 2.0 by April of 2022 and the TYP by May of 2022.


Disclaimer: Make sure you do your own research into any crowdfunding project you’re considering backing. While we aim to only share legitimate and trustworthy campaigns, there’s always a real chance that you can lose your money when backing any crowdfunded project.

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A Look at One of the Most Insanely Difficult Shots in Movie History

A Look at One of the Most Insanely Difficult Shots in Movie History

Brian De Palma is well known for movies like “Carrie,” “Scarface,” and “Mission: Impossible.” His 1990 film “The Bonfire of the Vanities” was panned by critics and was also a box office bomb, but within it is one incredibly cool shot that took an unbelievable amount of planning and technique to pull off, and the result was well worth the effort. This awesome video will show you the scene as well as what went into making it.

Coming to you from Patrick (H) Willems, this excellent video will show you what went into the famous Concorde at JFK shot in Brian De Palma’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” Though the movie is otherwise mostly forgettable, it is filled with interesting visuals, but perhaps none is more arresting (especially when you know the story behind it) than the plane arrival, as it took $80,000 and an incredibly narrow window of time (just 30 seconds in an entire year) to pull off. It took an almost unfathomable amount of planning and coordination to create, but the end result was worth it, as it is such a unique and eye-catching shot that it almost demands that you rewind and watch it again. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Willems. 

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